Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fighting Cancer with Wine

( The lineup for the first event this year. )

Well, not literally of course. And that’s only because I’m not a doctor and have no scientific information that suggests cancer can be fought with the direct application of wine. Interesting thought for a winemaker though…

Back in 2006 or 2007, and anyone in the know correct me, the Survivors Rule! team held our first wine tasting. My brother setup the first floor of his condo to accommodate a whole bunch of people and we put out snacks and a flight of homemade wines. We asked for a donation at the door and had several prizes to draw that tickets could be purchased for with an additional donation. I don’t recall how much money we raised through that event, it doesn’t really matter, but we did realize we had something.

( Guests at our first event listening to a presentation about what their support means. )

In the years since we have held one or two tastings, generally at the homes of friends, with pretty much the same format. Because we are serving homemade wines we can’t blow this event up and go big with a public facility and lots of tickets. You need to have a liquor license for that and no state in the union is in the business of granting them so that alcohol made free of taxes and without health department certification can be served to the public. To go big we would have to switch gears and serve only commercial wine, get a permit or host the event where tasting is already permitted, and depending on how big we wanted to go also manage the expenses of the wine and food out of the donations. Not for us. We don’t care because our small, intimate events are designed for a different purpose; to make people feel like they are part of something special.

Nine years ago this month I was a few short weeks out of cancer treatment and hoping for a strong recovery so I could get on or back to my life. At the time getting back to what I had previously was a natural consideration, I hadn’t thought how anything should be different just because I had had cancer; not yet at least.

( Margot talking to our friend Wayne over a glass of wine. )

The first shift in thinking came when the itch to get involved peaked. Cancer walks, donations, Lance Armstrong kicks ass, giving back, helping others. All these thoughts were swirling around my head. So we got involved.The story how the team got started and our efforts in the battle against cancer can be found in the first four parts of this series of giving back. Check out installments onetwothree and four.

Later in 2003 Margot got around to asking me a question that has been the best fork in the road I’ve come across. “What would you rather do than work all the time now that you are well again?” was offered up in casual conversation. My response, “make my own beer.” I had at least one friend who had done it and the idea intrigued me. I was digging craft beer at the time and being able to make my own beer with some drinkability to it (Bud, Miller, Coors all suck in my opinion) seemed like a great way to spend more time at home doing something fun. My Christmas gift that year was the equipment to make my own beer. A few extra pieces of equipment to make “chick wine” was also included at Margot’s request.

From there things took off on both the activism and the beer/wine making fronts. If you search around my blog a bit you will find lots of stories of making, pairing and travelling all in the spirit of better beverages.

( Amy, Nacny and friends working away in the kitchen at the second event. )

As the years passed my education about the fight against cancer grew new opportunities were set in front of me. As an outspoken advocate I found myself standing in front of the NH House Budget Committee, the assembled participants of the Relay For Life of Greater Derry & Londonderry, quite a few rooms of volunteers and fundraisers and also on the business end of the interview pen of several local media outlets. The people I was running with were inspiration to me, and it felt like we were soldiers. I was told that I spoke with passion and conviction and that my ability to wield the facts to help people understand what they were part of was captivating. It was also said that my energy was an inspiration to people. Coming and walking all night at Relay after raising lots of money made people want to get involved. What, me? This was all new and you must understand it all just sort of happened. I was making the choices to do it, but the drive was very basic and partly unconscious.

( My mother talking about what we are doing and why. )

All the while I was toiling away at home learning to make beer, wine, cider and mead. Each year they kept getting better as my experience and expenses grew. Sharing them with friends provided unending warmth and payback as I saw people enjoying my craft. I started entering competitions and early successes drove this even more. At last count Margot and I have collected 45 medals for a range of homemade beverages!

And that’s when my two worlds really collided. With both activism and wine we have created something that has become the premiere way the Survivors Rule! team engages donors to educate them on how their support makes a difference and why it is so important to get involved in your community.

This year we have hosted two Relay For Life wine tastings, with a third planned to benefit Making Strides Against Breast Cancer in the Fall.

So how do they work? Once guests have arrived and we have reached critical mass I generally offer a short presentation on how the money is used and where it goes after it leaves my hot little hands. At the most recent event I shared the facts and figures from my last post in this series, How Your SupportMakes Difference, which are largely focused on the very local impact funds raised through the Relay For Life have. In a rather telling moment the host of the event had to prompt me to share that I was a cancer survivor. How could I have forgotten that? Well, it was where this trip started which has since taken me and everyone else to so many places that I got tripped up in all the sights!

( People socializing over a glass of wine. A great day in my opinion. )

From there Margot and I typically start pouring the wines and sharing the stories of making them and our many tasting trips to different parts of the world to learn about foods and beverages. Being able to share our personal journey and how cancer has been transformative for us makes our events special. Guests open up and ask all sorts of questions. Other cancer survivors in the room share their own personal stories and lots of hugs. Families who struggle with cancer are given support and can take a few minutes to celebrate getting this far. For a few hours a community of people who know why they are there put their support on the line in the battle against cancer. This year I’ve said something new about the people who honor us with their support. “I’d go off to war for and with any of these people in heartbeat. They are real people living their lives with purpose. What isn’t worth defending in that?”

(Lots of friends and laughing is a cure for many ills. )

And we always have a lot of people to thank from these events. This year our gratitude goes out to Tom & Marilyn Baziak for hosting the first tasting. They have hosted a tasting event several years in a row now and we are so thankful for their efforts at organizing the guest list from the many circles in their lives. We also have to thank Ed Paul and Jim Riehl for hosting our second tasting. The organizing, food preparation (thank you Nancy & Amy as well) and killer drawing table made for a great event, the first of many if we are so lucky! Additional thanks go out to Donna and Bob (my parents), Tim & Abby (brother & sister-in-law) and Margot for all of the organizing, donations, food prep and generally dealing with me to put on these events. Finally, thank you to all of our donors and friends who come out each year to support us. We will never be able to thank you enough for taking this trip with us, we just hope one day we will all have to pick a different destination because we sent cancer packing!

This year we raised over $1500 from the two events, which tracks pretty consistently as the guest lists have fluctuated year to year. We feel like these events buck the larger economic trend and are a solid investment in the race for a cure. We are supporting two Relays this year with part of the funds raised from the first event benefitting the Relay For Life of North Central Connecticut. Our team has branched out and has a bigger footprint than when we started, a true testament to the journey cancer has put us all on. If that isn’t special I don’t what is.

If you would like to be part of this special story with a donation to the Relay For Life please use this link to make a donation online.




Terence said...

Very interesting and lovely post.

Rob Feckler said...

This just might be one of the most inspiring stories about fighting the good fight to ever hit the internet! Wine DOES do some good in helping prevent cancer. The new scientific research is that two glasses of red wine a day helps keep cancer at bay because of the properties of the grapes used to make them. So the collision of your passion for wine-making and your spreading the word of survival and good health does have backbone to it! Good luck on all of your endeavors, from your cause to your brewing!

Jason Phelps said...

Thanks Rob!

We really have found a great mashup with our wine tastings to raise money to fight cancer.